Letter 62

• 62. Caroline to Lotte Michaelis in Göttingen: Clausthal, 9 November 1785

[Clausthal] 10:00 a.m., Tuesday,
9 November [1785] [1]

|125| Let me catch my breath here with you, my dear Lotte. I am certainly permitted to rest a while with you, your last letter gives me that right.

You can imagine the domestic chaos in which we have been living here till now; indeed, things have been so lively in our castle that you would think a courtly wedding were being celebrated. The tower watchman sounded his trumpet every minute, the drawbridges had to be lowered, ladies and gentlemen let in, perfumed, wined, dined, put to bed, nor is it over yet, since — how should I refer to this inexpressibly peculiar hero with the swine’s head on his shield — the old fellow is still here with a manservant, sending only his family on ahead to Catelnburg because he was not yet able to finish up with his old rags and because old newspapers, godparent documents, etc. are still sitting around in large crates that need to be packed oh-so-neatly, along with all the rubbish in the form of paper, packing cord, |126| and dull quills accumulated during the past forty years. [2]

The man’s behavior is insufferable, he often seems almost childish to me, and the stubborn, terrible obstinacy he displays in such childish pranks! [3] All the old china, e.g., everything he thinks he used the whole time he was here — when in reality what they were really forced to do was secretly replace things such as cups and other breakables such that he did not notice — but all these things he absolutely wants to take with him.

Oh, that someone might compose for me a comical poem incorporating the story about the tin chamber pot — which he absolutely did not want to throw away even though it was allegedly in horrible shape; [4] instead, he wanted to tie it up over the heads of his daughters in the carriage that he might use it in case of an emergency — which comes often — he described this convenience quite touchingly until someone pointed out to him that, well, ladies would also be sitting in the carriage. Alas, that was something this blind Hessian had not thought of at all. [4a]

I would write myself hoarse were I to describe all the torments, the absolutely ridiculous torments his family has to endure because of him. He rouses the entire household at 3 a.m., wonders how everyone can sleep so excessively, and forces everyone up. At 5 a.m. he is already out of the house here to finish packing all his quaint belongings. He has an old table, genuinely from anno ‘40, beneath which his eldest daughter used to play house, and while playing she had tied a string to it which no one, ever, was permitted to take off. What on earth is that? Is this not a case of genuine, honest-to-goodness sentimentality?

He is, moreover, thrifty to the point of being comical, and yet also excessively generous — in a word, there is absolutely no end to it.

From what I glean from stories the mother tells, this family has brought unhappiness on itself into the third, fourth generations through its own ill-applied efforts. Although none of them lacks for talent, or even understanding, they are just all so |127| degenerate, having been guided at absolutely no point into the proper channels, and all this is passed down from father to son through education and training, which in this case is allegedly “free” and yet ends up being merely uncontrolled, and then this constant boasting about “strength” and one’s “almighty will” — all this blustering foolishness is enough to bring you to tears.

If the mother was formerly virtuous, then she is now quite interesting because of this incomparable pile of trouble. And if she was not, then at the least she is being so severely punished that any particular transgression ought to be forgotten. The two girls might even be bearable despite their false wit (of which Marianne has a whole collection of samples) were they not such insufferable washerwoman-scandal-mongers.

It must be bitter leaving a place where one has lived for 38 years and have not a single tear shed at your departure — where only at the very last, laborious moment strangers have to step forward to help, for without us their only refuge would have been the public inn. Not a single soul made any effort on their behalf. Although the Stissers may have erred often enough, nonetheless, in moments when even the most hardened of hearts has to soften a bit, this show of indifference attests hearts that are even harder than hard.

As I was watching them depart, gazing after them, I was thinking to myself — “How will it be when one day you yourself leave this place?” Doubtless not like this, certainly not exactly like this; you will shake the dust off your feet and watch these courtyards disappear behind you with a light heart. [5] But what a fool I am, getting so emotionally caught up in feelings that, alas! come all too prematurely.

You have probably already seen Marianne; [6] she really did not want to leave, and I myself had already gotten quite used to having her here, even to her shortcomings. Blumenbach’s visit was quite entertaining for us. Although it is quite certain that he was a bit embarrassé and that he felt he could have been happier, [7] I can testify on my own behalf that I did nothing |127| to encourage this feeling, nor change anything in my usual behavior except for not flirting or playing about quite as much with Böhmer.

I still know not whether I like this peace and quiet after so much noise and clamor. I will have to get used to it again, and how unhappy would I be were I not able to do so, if I always had to have people around in order to be cheerful. It is with sadness, however, that I now see the snow, the partition between me and the world. It is exactly the same feeling as last winter; the trees lost their leaves in the same way, the fir trees darkened in the same way, and the wind howled outside my lonely room, the clouds above swirled past in a thousand shapes [8] — I lived not in the present, but in the hope of spring and of what it would bring — that was the only difference

Now I have my child, now I am actually enjoying the gift for which I waited. [9] And what a child! My Auguste is a delightful, charming creature. Marianne has likely also owned as much. She was not well for a time, but now everything is fine again. —

If you genuinely do what you say you will, then I have nothing more to add. May all your hopes come true! Hide them that you may also nurture them, do not give any hints at all of a more intimate acquaintance with Meyer, [10] especially not around the Heynes. Let me urgently warn you in this regard; do not mention his name, it will be all the more effective because people have hitherto not been accustomed to that in you, and your silence will make it seem as if no secret is involved in any case. Do not tell Marianne that Meyer is visiting the Böhmers. Believe me, the elder Heyne would doubtless try to guard him.

Marianne never really openly divulged her opinion of Meyer to me, which is rather peculiar in and of itself even though I do not really believe she loves him. On the last day she did blurt out that she does not really consider M[eyer] to be entirely honest, that he is able to speak quite differently than, as one |129| might discover later, he really thinks. In short, you certainly have every reason to be extremely cautious. O Reason, you thoughtful, well-considered guardian spirit, hold sway over Lotte!

Perhaps I will hear something else from all of you this afternoon when the mail comes.

The mail just came but brought me nothing more from you than that you do not like to write. We will let it pass this time. Were you at the assemblée? Meyer played with Madam Heyne. Surely you did not give yourself away, did you? I cannot deny that Mother wrote me that on Wednesday evening you went over to the Böhmers’ after supper. [11] You have realized yourself that this was an extremely faulty step to have taken, so I will add nothing more than to encourage you to remain true to yourself. Stay well, my dear Lotte.

Caroline Böhmer


[1] A date discrepancy obtains here, since 9 November 1784 fell on a Tuesday, 9 November 1785 on a Wednesday, 1785 being a common year beginning on Saturday. Waitz (1871), 1:25n1, also noticed this discrepancy: “There must be an error in the dating [Tuesday, 9 November, no year indicated], since although 1784 is suggested, the letter’s contents preclude such.” Hence Caroline’s dating needs correction with regard either to day of the week or to calendar date. Waitz added “1785” in brackets, which Erich Schmidt (1913), 1:125, also picked up, albeit with no note indicating the discrepancy. Back.

[2] As becomes clearer later in the letter, Caroline is presumably referring to Christian Emmerich Stisser, who was smelting-works inspector in Clausthal until leaving in 1785. — Katlenburg (Katelnburg, Catelnburg) is located ca. 90 km northwest of Gotha (Map of the Empire of Germany including all the states comprehended under that name with the Kingdom of Prussia, &c. [London 1782]):



[3] “Childish pranks”: Caroline uses the Göttingen expression Panzenstreiche (Panzen, “children”). Back.

[4] The chamber pot in this scene by Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki can be seen under the nightstand (Gil Blas ist Diener bei der Don Gonzales Pachecco [1778]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Chodowiecki Sammlung [2-118]):



[4a] Caroline had spent part of her youth at a boarding school in Gotha and might first have heard the story of the blind Hessians there, since Mühlhausen is located just north of Gotha, in Thuringia, about 60 km southeast of Göttingen, between Göttingen and Gotha (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]; Johann Georg Theodor Grässe, Sagenbuch des Preußischen Staats, vol. 1 [Glogau 1868], 371–72):


Once upon a time, the town of Mühlhausen was sorely threatened and besieged by troops from Hesse. Most of the town’s defenders had already been captured or were dead or wounded, and the besiegers’ next onslaught could not but bring the town into their possession.

But necessity is the mother of invention. That night, under the cover of darkness, the Mühlhausen townsfolk set up wooden stakes or posts on the town walls and then equipped and armed these posts after the fashion of living soldiers. Between these wooden soldiers, however, living warriors moved to and fro while mocking and threatening the enemy camp below.

When at dawn the astonished Hessians beheld the new armaments and all the warriors and defenders along the walls, they despaired of victory and withdrew faint-heartedly. And thus did they thenceforth receive the name “dumb” or “blind Hessians.” Back.

[5] Acts 13:48-51 (NRSV):

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of the their region. So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. Back.

[6] Marianne Heyne had spent a month with Caroline in Clausthal (10 October–7 November 1785; see Caroline’s letter to Luise Gotter on 14 November 1785 [letter 63]), possibly at the initiative of Therese Forster, who seems to have sensed Marianne needed a change of some sort as far back as 1783. Therese herself had married Georg Forster on 4 September 1785 and seems to have arranged the visit before she left for Vilnius with Forster on 7 September.

In a letter to Luise Mejer from St. Aubin on 25/26 August 1783 (Therese was in Switzerland on a trip with her aunt Louise and the latter’s husband, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach), she writes (Therese Huber Briefe, 1:129; 542n55):

But tell me, what is to be done with Marianne? a change of some sort simply must be put into effect, she must get out of the house, but where? she is too old for a boarding school, nor can one send her anywhere else with a good conscience, since she is unbearable. There are many boarding schools here in Switzerland, but no one takes in pupils of that age. It is quite sad for her and for us as well.

Concerning Marianne’s “unbearable” personality, see Piter Poel, Bilder aus vergangener Zeit, 267 (illustration: Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Überdruss / Ennui [1788]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.771):

The second stepdaughter [of Georgine Heyne, Christian Gottlob Heyne’s second wife; Poel discusses Therese—the first stepdaughter—earlier], Marianne — a tall blond 16 or 17 years old [Marianne was born in 1768], with a sluggish intellect, big, blue, expressionless eyes, a delicately shaped nose, and a brilliantly white complexion — did not contribute much to livening up conversations, though she was always a good sport about being teased, something her saucy personality, not an entirely unflattering trait at her age, seemed to invite; otherwise, she was an indolent, sullen thing in daily life. These personality traits were not exactly a salutary dowry for her subsequent husband, the librarian Reuss [whom Marianne married in 1799], who suffered through a joyless marriage with her.



[7] Embarrassé: Caroline uses the Germanized French form embarrassirt. Blumenbach had courted Caroline as early as 1777 and was apparently the one who broke off the relationship. See Caroline to Luise Stieler on 4 September 1778 (letter 1); in 1779 he married Louisa Amalia Brandes, sister of Christian Gottlob Heyne’s second wife, and allegedly received a professorship as dowry. Back.

[8] Schauplatz der Natur und der Künste, vol. 2 (Vienna 1775), plate 12:


Here a winter scene in Altenthal, a small village just east of Clausthal in the Harz Mountains (early postcard):



[9] Auguste had been born back in April.

Caroline otherwise only infrequently extols motherhood quite so overtly (“O, es ist ein seeliges Gefühl Mutter zu sein” [“Ah, what a blissful feeling to be a mother”], Frauenzimmer Almanach zum Nutzen und Vergnügen [1788]; note the maidservant holding the infant):



[10] See esp. Caroline to Lotte Michaelis on 18 October 1785 (letter 61). Back.

[11] Leipziger Taschenbuch für Frauenzimmer zum Nutzen und Vergnügen auf das Jahr 1795; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung:



Translation © 2011 Doug Stott